Statistics from before the pandemic show that one in four women and one in six men will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime; 56% of employers say that domestic abuse leads to absenteeism and 54% to a reduction in quality of work. Yet each year less than one person on average discloses domestic abuse to their employer.

Amy Sadro

More recent statistics from Refuge, a UK charity providing specialist support for women, children and men experiencing domestic violence, show that there has been a dramatic increase in activity across its specialist domestic abuse services throughout the pandemic.

Between April 2020 and February 2021 calls and contacts logged on Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline increased by an average of 61% and there was an average of seven-fold increase in visits to their dedicated webpage.

When an employer applies these statistics to their workforce, it starkly demonstrates the growing scale of the problem and how many of their people are likely being affected by some form of domestic abuse.

Like many employers, it was figures like these that was the driver for Eversheds Sutherland to renew its focus on how it supports its employees suffering from domestic abuse, particularly as its workforce embedded into working from home.

Employers are a vital route to break the silence around domestic abuse and start a conversation within their organisations.

The workplace is often seen as a safe haven and colleagues and managers can be well placed to spot the signs of domestic abuse.

At the same time, employees experiencing domestic abuse can be vulnerable while they are at work because, once they attempt to leave an abusive partner, the workplace can become the only place where they can be located and harmed. Perpetrators may be using workplace resources such as time, phones, e-mail or other means to threaten, harass or abuse their current or former partner.

However, employers can only help if they know what they are looking for or if staff feel that they will get the right support to make a disclosure.

The experience of Eversheds Sutherland is that the bedrock of opening up the conversation is a domestic abuse policy. The policy sets out the many forms of domestic abuse including coercive control, financial, psychological control and sexual and physical violence, and when and what support can be provided.

The policy also reflects that employers are not expected to be experts in how to manage situations of domestic abuse. Their role is to respond sympathetically, confidentially and effectively to any employee who discloses that they are suffering.

Employers can make a number of changes to their internal processes to make sure that the workplace cannot be used as a tool to perpetuate abuse and offer support for people taking steps to leave an abusive relationship and home.

Employers could consider including some of the following measures in their policies: 

  • Providing paid leave for relevant appointments, including with support agencies, solicitors, to rearrange housing or childcare, and for court appointments;

  • Making temporary or long-term changes to working times and patterns via the Lifestyle process;

  • Changes to specific duties, for example to avoid potential contact with any perpetrator;

  • Redeployment or relocation, where appropriate and possible;

  • Implementing measures to ensure a safe working environment, for example changing a telephone number to avoid harassing phone calls; and

  • Providing access to counselling/support and occupational health services in paid time.

Building on the building blocks of our policy, as a firm, Eversheds Sutherland has also:

  • Demonstrated our commitment by becoming a member of the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse, which provides practical guidance to enable employers to take action on domestic abuse including raising awareness among all employees, supporting those facing domestic abuse, and providing access to services to help perpetrators to stop;

  • To keep the conversation going, in June last year we published a blog from a colleague sharing their personal experience of domestic abuse to help open up the conversation as we knew this was a challenge that people in our business could be facing;

  • We launched our ‘International Domestic Abuse Support Resources’ with details of helplines/charities across the UK, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Hong Kong, as well as signposting our Employee Assistance Programme, charities, and gender and LGBT+ specific advice and helplines;

  • Information on domestic abuse and helpful resources is available via the Open House app, which is provided free of charge to all of our employees; and

  • We have made charitable donations to charities including Refuge.

 

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Amy Sadro is principal associate at Eversheds Sutherland